Toni Preckwinkle was bombarded Thursday for allegedly inflating her role in exposing the deadly police shooting of Laquan McDonald to distract attention from the $10,000 campaign contribution that Ald. Edward M. Burke (14th) muscled for her from a Burger King franchise owner.
Fired Chicago Police Superintendent-turned-mayoral candidate Garry McCarthy got the ball rolling by attacking the chest-pounding claims that Preckwinkle makes in her first campaign commercial about the behind-the-scenes role she played.
“Instead of Toni Preckwinkle manning up and saying, ‘Maybe I made a mistake’ or doing something about it, she’s trying to distract away from her troubles,” McCarthy told the Chicago Sun-Times.
“This is exactly what Rahm Emanuel did when he fired me when I wasn’t in charge of the discipline system of the department or the investigation into the shooting of Laquan McDonald and when the cover-up of the video happened on the civil side in City Hall…’Look at the shiny object. It’s not me.’ It absolutely is her. She’s a corrupt machine politician in the tradition of Chicago.”
Mayoral candidates Lori Lightfoot and Amara Enyia piled on the frontrunner in the crowded field of candidates vying to replace Emanuel.
“By using the Laquan McDonald video…to distract from her role in the Ed Burke extortion scheme, Toni Preckwinkle proves she is not ready to lead,” Lightfoot said, accusing Preckwinkle of trying to “erase the tireless organizing of thousands of activists, young people, lawyers, investigative journalists, and everyday Chicagoans who rose up to demand justice.”
Enyia agreed that “no single person can or should take credit for a community-led effort.” Chicagoans “need a mayor who leads with humility and grace” and “prioritizes community healing over political expediency,” she said.
Community activist and former mayoral candidate Ja’Mal Green and activist priest Father Michael Pfleger also got in on the act.
“Activists went through beatings, broken bones, financial instability, court dates, stress & more to receive justice for Laquan! No one can take that away from us, WE unseated Anita, WE pushed for the dash cam, WE changed policy. The movement, not one person,” Green tweeted.
On his Facebook page, Pfleger wrote that it is “both sad and wrong” for Preckwinkle to take credit for the role she played, calling it a “slap in the face” to community activists.
As County Board president, Preckwinkle oversees the Cook County medical examiner’s office.
She used that authority to, first describe the autopsy results to investigative reporter Jamie Kalven and then, as soon as it was legally possible, release the report that showed that nine of the sixteen shots fired by now-convicted Chicago Police Officer Jason Van Dyke were fired into McDonald’s back.
That information helped Kalven keep the heat on City Hall and persuade a judge to order Emanuel to release the shooting video that the mayor was seen as desperately trying to conceal and already had kept under wraps until after the 2015 election.
Preckwinkle on Thursday tried to put out the political firestorm during a stormy news conference at her campaign headquarters. It lasted less than eight minutes and ended with her walking out while reporters were still shouting questions she refused to answer.
“I stand by the role that I played. It was the release of the autopsy to the family and to the activists and to the folks who were suing to get the videotape released that made it possible for us to know the truth about Laquan McDonald’s murder,” she said.
“The mayor, the police superintendent and the state’s attorney were actively covering up his murder…The city was hiding the truth by spreading a false narrative that Laquan McDonald was the aggressor and that police were defending themselves. I released the autopsy report that helped expose their lies and I demanded that the police chief be fired. I worked to elect a new state’s attorney. When I’m mayor, there will be no cover-ups. Only accountability.”
When Preckwinkle was asked whether she was changing the subject from the Burke controversy, she started reading again from the statement she had already delivered.
As her spokesperson shouted, “Last question,” the embattled candidate was asked what effect being dragged into the Burke scandal would have on her mayoral campaign.
“We’ve returned every single dollar that was raised at the Burke event. I’ve taken the strongest position against Ald. Burke,” said Preckwinkle, who allowed Burke to hold a fundraiser for her re-election campaign for county board president at his home.
“We stripped him of his chairmanship of the judicial Cook County slating committee. I called for his resignation as committeeman of the 14th Ward. I called for his resignation as alderman. I called for his resignation as chairman of the Finance Committee.”
Reporters tried to ask Preckwinkle why she hired Burke’s son for a sensitive Homeland Security job from which he resigned after questions were raised about his time sheets. She ignored the question and walked out.